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Baseball: News of Robichaux's heart attack, surgery shakes former Ragin' Cajuns

Kevin Foote, The Advocate, June 25, 2019

When the news that UL baseball coach Tony Robichaux suffered a heart attack requiring surgery began circulating around the Acadiana area Monday afternoon, it was likely a shock for all who heard.

But definitely for his former players.

“That was like getting punched in the gut,” said former UL pitcher Kraig Schambough (2002-05). “You care for someone, somebody who changes your life and you look at him in a different light than you do other people, so it’s kind of gut-wrenching.”

The university released a statement following Tuesday’s surgery at Lafayette General Hospital that Robichaux is expected to make “a full and complete recovery.”

Robichaux has been UL’s head baseball coach for the last 25 years, accumulating 914 wins with the Cajuns and 1,177 total wins including his stint at McNeese State.

If you listen to his players, though, Robichaux’s impact goes far beyond his win total.

“Tony was huge for me,” Schambough said. “I went in there as a young fellow. I just wanted to be a ball player. He slowly by surely transformed me into a young man. I’m sure he’s done that for thousands of guys.

“He broadened my horizons and taught me what life was really about. It was so much more than baseball.”

The story was similar for All-American second baseman Jace Conrad (2012-14).

“Coach Robe had a huge impact on me,” Conrad said. “When I came to UL, I was a very confident person. I would say that I was probably a little arrogant. In general, he brought me back down to earth and basically taught me there are other things besides baseball in life and those things define what type of person you are, not the game of baseball.”

Now in the field of commercial insurance, Conrad said Robichaux still impacts his life on a daily basis.

“Not only do I want to make my wife and my family proud, but I want to make coach Robe proud.”

Conrad further detailed how his business strategy also stems from lessons learned from Robichaux.

“Instead of being a salesman, I just try and build good relationships and earn the respect from people,” Conrad said. “That’s what Coach Robe has always taught us.”

Known for his lengthy speeches filled with his philosophies on how to conquer life, Kevin Cantrelle insists Robichaux’s behind-the-scenes value isn’t overstated.

“As a player, he was a great mentor,” said Cantrelle, who played under Robichaux from 1995-98 and whose son Hayden is currently playing at UL. “He was great coach for on-the-field stuff, but of course, it’s what he brings to us as players off the field. It’s profound and it’s not cliché. To the guys that are in that locker room and are fortunate enough to be coached by coach Robe, I think you learn to appreciate all those things later.

“Personally, I was able to appreciate them in the moment as well for personal reasons. But I think a lot of players don’t really realize (his value) until they’re either in their job, or they’re married or they have children, that they realize all the things coach Robe was talking about through the game of baseball. How much that prepared them for what was to come after. I think his impact has been profound and I don’t think it can be overstated.”

For Steven Feehan, who played centerfield for the Cajuns from 1997-2000, it was Robichaux’s honesty that’s stuck with him over the years.

“For me, he’s just been a man of integrity from the very beginning,” Feehan said. “He always said that he would give everyone an equal opportunity to play. It didn’t matter how you came in or how you got recruited, everyone got an equal chance. The ones that performed were the ones that got on the field. He was just a man that kept his word and he was honest.

“I had my brother as a father figure. I didn’t have a dad for most of my life, so to have someone there to guide me and encourage me and just always be there — just someone who always stuck to his word — was very influential.”

Cantrelle witnessed firsthand the frustration of this past season for Robichaux’s Cajuns, who finished a disappointing 28-31 to miss NCAA regional play for the third straight season.

“As a dad of a player who sat in the meeting when my son was recruited, the man wants to win a national championship,” Cantrelle said. “That’s what he’s got left from baseball. That’s his goal. To see the stress and realize where the team is, no doubt that can put added stress on anybody.

“I think Tony is Ragin’ Cajuns baseball and I don’t think there’s any way he doesn’t own the results. That had to stress him during the year.”

Schambough is one who can’t even listen to any public criticism of Robichaux.

“It’s easy to get caught up in wins and losses,” Schambough said. “It’s easy to forget about the personal side. Trust me, when that team loses, he takes it personally I promise you. When I hear people say that (negative comments), it’s extremely hard for me. There are times I have to turn social media off and get away from it, because I can’t really take it.

“You want to defend a guy like that every chance you get, but you shouldn’t have to. Tony’s proved his worth over and over again. Without Tony, Cajun baseball wouldn’t be a 10th of what it is today, in my opinion.”